Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Personal: My National Geographic Adventure

This is not a resource post but more of a personal one. I wanted to share with you my experience over the last month preparing a query for National Geographic Adventure. I hope you can learn from it.

Let me began by saying I know it's crazy --- sending a query to one of the top travel magazines and for a feature story no less. But, as my travel writing career progresses forward I'm ready to leave the small publications behind and look to my future with larger ones. I'm grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by those magazines, but I realize if I'm going to make it in this business, I need to look my future with a larger paychecks and respectable bylines.

That said, after returning from Laos, I discovered I had a great idea for an article. Not just any story but one if I closed my eyes I could see on the cover of the magazine. Even more, one that would catapult my writing to the next level. Instead of immediately writing and sending a query, I studied four months of the magazine, looking at style and tone, format, and which destinations they feature and the subject matter their articles.

Next, I inquired the help of other travel writers. I needed to know, what are the key components to a great query letter? Yes, I'm written query letters before, but if I wanted my career to be different, I would have to be different. And that meant practically learning how to construct a query letter all over again. National Geographic Adventure is not a typical magazine and my query letter couldn't be either.

Then I started writing. The first drafts of my letter were three pages long. And as you know, the rule of queries is: the shorter the better. Cutting it down was painstaking and difficult. What details do I omit? What do I keep? After two weeks of editing, the query was down to a page and a half. Normally, I would have stopped here. Four months of researching, a week of writing, and two weeks of editing should have been enough, but, again, NGA is not a typical magazine. I needed more.

I hired Amy Scott, a professional editor, to read and critique my query. Unnecessary expense? Yes. But, her comments and suggestions, improved the flow of the letter. Small price to pay if I receive the assignment.

I spent another week tweaking it based on her suggestions. And here I am --- looking at the envelope with my query and published clips in it, which essentially could alter my life. Even now after everything I've done, I can't help but wonder? Is it good enough? What more could I have done?

Only time (three months to be exact) will tell. After reading my story, ask yourself: Are you doing everything you can? Or are you settling for good enough?


Denene said...

Great post, Terah! And good luck with the query. What is the article topic?

Anonymous said...

I'll be watching my NGA subscription for an article on Laos sometime next year . . . (BTW, the idea of hiring a pro to look at a query letter was a new one for me - thanks for a tip.)